by Max Brantley
The Democrat-Gazette reporter, in covering Little Rock city budget talks today, duly recorded Mayor Mark Stodola's rote defense of the $225,000 paid in corporate welfare by taxpayers and water customers to subsidize the top-secret economic development activities of the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce. The article noted criticism, then said:
But chamber and city officials point to the 11,054 new jobs and $431.5 million in new payroll generated between 2005 and 2010 as a measure of their success in economic development. Little Rock officials have said they couldn’t generate the same kind of results with a staff at City Hall.
* Correlation is not causation. Have we a shred of proof that the city's dollars were important in the creation of a single one of those jobs? Will they list the jobs created and the work done by the city's money? They will not. They will not, as yet, even release identities of the people supposedly working in the city's behalf at salaries a good deal richer than those paid city workers.
* Do the jobs include, say, growth at the med center or a recent decision by a telecom company to stay put in Little Rock after a corporate spinoff, jobs that could hardly be credited to city money?
* Is the figure gross or net? How many jobs did we lose because of a city with poor code enforcement, shoddily maintained and inadequate parks, underfunded mass transit and sometimes troubled schools that the Chamber delights in publicly beating up? The Chamber's money could cure some of the basic ills. Does the figure include the loss of aircraft industry jobs and a report on the high living done by the mayor and chamber in Parisian pursuit of these evaporating jobs?
* If times are so good, why then has city population and revenue been flat to declining in the years of this great prosperity?
* Is it possible that jobs gained here are not much of a gain for Little Rock? Do we lobby companies to locate themselves and workers in neighborhoods in the central city that qualify for a generous federal tax credit program? Do we push them to locations that tie in with mass transit? Do we tout schools of excellence and use them as selling tools? Or do we steer them to industrial locations readily accessible by freeway to Saline County and Cabot, swelling commuter traffic with workers who drive in, punch in, punch out and drive home, barely setting foot on Little Rock soil and spending little money and contributing little by way of other tax support? Do we create incentives for people to live as well as work in Little Rock? If we do, where are the results?
Many questions, No answers. The city board sits dumbly and accepts this tub-thumping Chamber of Commerce swill as if it were holy writ. If it's so, I quote Jerry Maguire: Show me the money. And show me the details of this supposed miraculous job growth. I won't be holding my breath.
Perhaps the city and chamber have a grand slam story to tell here. But the facts are simple: There is no accountability on either the spending of this money or the claimed results. (Even the state has come up with a list, usually wildly exaggerated, of the specifics of its job creation.) This lack of accountability is the rule, not the exception, in city government. It extends to some of the city-funded activities of some of the very city directors who robotically approve a subsidy to a group that has built a long history of working against the interests of working people. To quote the late J. Bill Becker after some similar soap selling by a certain former governor: "Don't piss on my leg and tell me it's raining."
PS — that nearly $40,000 average job claimed to have been created here is a whale of lot more than being paid at any major industrial job location I can think of, be it pipe plant, windmill factory or whatever. As a reader notes, be highly skeptical when a public official tries to shovel you such microscopically specific numbers as these. My dollar to your doughnut: Mark Stodola can't prove them.